Zac Guildford is back playing rugby in New Zealand, but a return to the international stage won’t be happening anytime soon, and nor should it.
Guildford has been one of the most colourful All Blacks off the field that New Zealand rugby has ever produced. Alcohol related incidents were the key reason Todd Blackadder and the Crusaders parted ways with Guildford midway through Super Rugby last year.
Guildford went to France and played for Clermont on what was supposed to be a two-year deal. Then suddenly the French club announced that Guildford had quit and packed his bags back to New Zealand.
With the ITM Cup season about to kickoff, Guildford will be one of the players to watch in the Hawkes Bay squad as the Magpies set out to defend their Ranfurly Shield. However, caution needs to be taken with Guildford, because his sudden departure from France strongly suggests that his off field problems are far from over.
Guildford announced he is entering the boxing ring for the first time this December in Fight for Life. Boxing will be a good way to keep Guildford disciplined and hopefully out of trouble during his time in camp, but after December who knows where Guildford will end up in terms of rugby.
Potentially a return to the Hurricanes could be on the agenda for Guildford, but if his off field issues are not behind him, the distraction will not be welcome in the Hurricanes environment. The only other real option for Guildford would be the Blues, and being under the guidance of Tana Umaga would be the perfect recipe for Guildford to find the outstanding form many remember from his time at the Rugby World Cup in 2011.
In the final round of pool play against Canada in that tournament, Guildford was outstandingly quick on the wing, by far his best performance of an all to short career. It would go on to be the last of his highlights from a stint in the All Blacks.
Make no mistake about it readers, Graham Henry and Steve Hansen had placed huge amounts of faith in Guildford virtually from the get go.
Another signal that the All Black coaches and selectors had placed a lot of faith in Guilford can be found in the stats. In his ten starts for the All Blacks, Guildford came off the bench only once. Many others in the current All Blacks squad couldn’t say they were given the opportunities to start in matches as much as Guildford did between 2009-2012.
Guildford’s problems with alcohol were first revealed in 2011, after incidents in Auckland and Brisbane made the news, and right throughout the Rugby World Cup that year, Guildford was playing with some significant issues off the field, yet still he played well.
Imagine the sensational feats Guildford could have achieved in the All Blacks if he was playing with a clear mind.
New Zealand rugby fans have a lot of respect for Guildford in terms of what he can do on the field, but the reason that Guildford’s name hasn’t been brought up in the general discussion surrounding the All Blacks RWC squad isn’t because of ineligibility, but the fact that it is a risk that simply isn’t worth taking.